Advice for first high altitude backpacking trip?

Max_Kiel_Trail Member, Moderator Posts: 12

In 10 days I will be headed to Aspen, Colorado for a three day backpacking trip of the Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop. To say that I'm stoked would be quite the understatement.

I live in the Hudson Valley Region of New York, and I have never been hiking out West before. Most of my hikes/runs take place at anywhere from sea level to 5,000' elevation, with the highest I've ever been being Clingman's Dome in the Smokies at over 6,600'.

I'm slightly nervous about catching altitude sickness up at these elevations. We have three full days to complete the 25 mile loop, so we will be taking it nice and slow as to not to push ourselves too hard. Any tips/recommendations to prevent altitude sickness at these elevations? (FYI the trail reaches heights of over 12,000' four times).


  • tina
    tina Member, Moderator Posts: 56

    Take it slow, hydrate more than you think you'll need to, bring some strong painkillers for the potential high-altitude headaches, and try some Accli-mate or similar drink mix a day or two before you arrive. it's gonna be great!

  • katethewild
    katethewild Member, Moderator Posts: 23

    If you have any chance to sleep at altitude before the hike, do it. In my experience it helps a ton. Even if it’s just one night! It is said that taking chlorophyll supplements a few weeks prior to exposure helps by oxygenating the blood- I have tried but can’t confirm. I like to bring ginger chews in case nausea strikes. Drink a ton of water and make sure you’re eating enough. Altitude sickness can ruin an appetite even after a physically demanding day.

  • Naomibro
    Naomibro Member Posts: 92


    Altitude sickness sucks and is really dangerous! You NEVER know who gets it either. Young, old; male, female; last year you were ok. Same family. Thin. Fat. In shape. Nope, Every year different. It's real, you are not a wuss an have to pay attention. Your brain and spinal cord swell. Terrible stuff.

    The human body has to acclimate. For some, it's hours; Some? It's weeks. Some? months. Some? NEVER.

    Aspen is high.Go to your M.D. before, tell him/her you may have altitude problems. Be completely honest. Try Diamox, a prescription, supposed to "help" altitude sickness, It's a diuretic. Drink more water. Acclimate does not work for everyone. If symptoms persist beyond two days, just go lower. Like really low.

    If you have a headache, puke, get really ants-y, or pick a fight, weird core muscle aches, stomach ache, (and there are other discomforts) you have "it". Time to go home.

    Yeah, it sucks. You can stroke out or croak from this. So not worth it. The over the counter stuff does not work for everyone either. Find other places to hike....

    Go home. Hike at sea level. We still love you.

  • quiggleryan
    quiggleryan Member Posts: 46

    The most important thing is to take your time and listen to your body. This is probably the most important thing you can do. Just take your time and drink a lot of water and take breaks and admire the view. This will save you from hating yourself or getting sick. Just remember that you are in a different environment and that you will have to adapt. Also take some electrolyte packets so that you can stay hydrated and help with maintaining the sugars in your body. Best of luck!

  • Danimal
    Danimal Member Posts: 17

    I love being above treeline. It has views and terrain like nowhere else. It does however have a downside that can hit anyone, even if you have been fine the last time. AMS(Acute Mountain Sickness ), HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema ), HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema ), and HAF (High Altitude Flatulence ), only dangerous to your tent partner, are the possible conditions. The most likely is AMS which is commonly indicated by headache and nausea. While moving down in altitude a minimum of 1000 feet until the condition improves is the preferred action. For any of the conditions some things that might help are: Water! Drinking at least a liter at the onset of headache will usually relieve it in a few minutes. Chocolate (preferably dark ), and aspirin can help with the headache and ginger (I carry the candied version ) can help with the nausea. The other conditions are rare but the indicators for HAPE are, a rice crispie sound when breathing and possible pink froth when coughing. For HACE, altered level of consciousness, loss of balance, staggering, and irritability are all indicators. Again, These conditions are rare but require evacuation to a lower altitude. A minimum of 1500 feet but more is better. Knowlege is power! it is better to know and prepare than go on believing it can't happen to me. Go out, enjoy, experience the outdoors and know you are a little better prepared to handle the unexpected.

  • nobody
    nobody Member Posts: 4

    Since the post is old, this comment is for others.

    All of the other advice is good.

    I lived at 7,000 Feet in Colorado Springs. Congestion issues begin to occur at or around 10,000 feet. The best place to acclimatize safely is Pikes Peak. The Rangers may allow you to drive to the Top and Park. You can then hike down the Barr Trail to the tree line, which is not a beginners trail. Keep a can of Oxygen ($20 at most gas stations heading to Pikes Peak). Going down is easier than going up! Multiple trips up and down the Barr trail will let you know if you are prepared for the Barr, or just the Bar’s in Colorado. Longs Peak is a killer. Approach with Caution and don’t fall.

    It may take most people twice as long to go up, as it did to hike down. Even in summer be prepared for Snow or cold weather. There is usually 6 foot of snow in May. Go with someone that is experienced above 10,000 feet, especially in winter. Deep snow may break through and you will look like a face planted, one legged snow angel. We call this ballet technique post holing. Tourist wandering off trail are found in the springtime in this position, defrosting as popsicles.

    Go with someone experienced, if you are new to altitude. Have enough gear to spend the night on day trips, take UV glacier glasses to prevent snow blindness. And above all, stop and hunker down in whiteout conditions . Mountains are fun, but the are unforgiving of those lacking understanding. B-12 helps oxygenate the blood also.

    stories are survival situations that begin with, and there I was …

    God is in the mountains, if you are prepared, you will see the creator from a distance and not personally.

    Stop, think, breathe! Same as scuba.

    When you drive to the top of Pikes Peak, if you have to stop, going from the Car to the Donut shop, stay off the trails. It is hard for rescuers to carry people up the Barr Trail, especially after their 3rd donut.


    Nobody Cares!

    P.S. Snowshoeing Devil’s Playground in April/May is a blast.